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By the 1960s, the post-war boom had flourished for over a decade, and had begun to wane. Under conservative Eisenhower, the nation had grown, but only cautiously. When Kennedy swept into office, his energy and enthusiasm inspired Americans to take on challenges both foreign and domestic. Kennedy's goals were to stimulate the economy, reduce unemployment, support growth and democracy abroad and establish an important economic position on the international front. Later, Johnson added the goals of eradicating poverty, integrating women and minorities into the economy and winning the war in Vietnam. Environmental and consumer interests were increasingly taken into consideration.

As the nation strove to achieve these goals, the economy suffered from their negative effects. Large-scale government spending and the constraints of the international monetary system resulted in domestic inflation. As the government struggled to slow inflation and stabilize the economy, the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty raged on. One war was hopelessly lost, and the other was only partially won. Optimism disintegrated as the dollar lost stability and inflation took a firm hold.

By the end of the 1960s, the economy was very different from its state at the beginning of the decade. Growth was slowing, inflation was rising, and the dollar was in poor shape. Nevertheless, there were positive changes in the economy. The United States had obtained greater access to trade with foreign nations. Developments in computers contributed to the increasingly widespread use of computerized technology in business. Women and minorities were increasingly a part of important economic activities. Poverty had been seriously reduced. Legislation to protect consumers and the environment from unsafe business practices was established. The American economy had been thrust into the second half of the century, not fully capable of meeting its challenges, but willing to try.